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Environment Sustainability- An Unrealistic Truth

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are an initiative of the United Nation for addressing eight major global challenges. It was conceptualized in year 1995, signed by 189 member countries of the United Nation in October 2000 and 2015 was set as the target year for MDGs. Recently, from 20 to 22 September, 2010, representatives of all member countries met to discuss and evaluate the outcomes and come up with major achievements and targets.

Reports show the status of different countries with regards to absolute and relative progress of top 20 ranked countries in these two different categories. Absolute progress indicates those countries who have seen the biggest positive change since the MDGs were initiated. India is in the 9th position in absolute progress rank. Surprisingly, in spite of being one of the fastest growing countries, China holds the 15th position in absolute progress and 2nd in relative progress. Many Latin American and African countries show significant growth and it is estimated that many of them will achieve their targets by 2015.

Growth of two the most populated countries, India and China, is satisfactory. The data show that progress in India was limited between 1990 and 2005, but that it has improved in the last few years. For instance, between 2000 and 2006, the net enrollment in primary schools rose from 85% to 94%. Gender disparities also reduced substantially in recent years: in India, the male-female ratio improved from .77 to .96 from 1991 to 2006.

In spite of many achievements, reports clearly indicate that progress on some of the goals is still low. The 7th goal, to ensure environmental sustainability is one such goal.

Goal 7 includes the following four targets:

  1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
  2. Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss.
  3. Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
  4. Achieve, by 2020, a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

The first target, to ensure sustainable development through a reversal in the use of natural resources, is turning out to be a difficult target to achieve because of several factors, for instance, fast growing economies all over the world, limited natural resources availability, and the continuously increasing human population. Facts show that nearly 17,000 species of plants and animals are currently at the verge of extinction. It is because of exploitation of natural resources that forest cover is continuously decreasing. In that scenario, when developing countries like India and China are talking about at least 8% annual growth rates, is it possible to achieve these rates while maintaining the sustainability of natural resources and biodiversity? In other words, can environment sustainability and economic growth move in parallel, or is this only a hypothesis?

Most of the countries have been able to achieve significantly only 3rd target: sustainable access to pure drinking water. The United Nation report shows that with the present growth rate, the world will meet or even exceed the target set by 2015. Many countries have achieved significant positive progress. For instance, in 1995, access to safe drinking water in India was 77%; in 2008, access increased to 88%. These data appear quite satisfactory, but questions remain about the distribution of beneficiaries (for example, does the rural population benefit to the same level as urban populations?) or the definition of access (for example, does this potable water come at a reasonable cost, whether measured in terms of time or money?). Also, despite progress in terms of access to potable water, the availability of basic sanitation facilities is far below the target: if present trends continue, it is estimated that 2.7 billion people will be without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

The target of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has already been achieved, and 200 million people get access to pure water and live in a less crowded environment. In spite of this, the sheer number of people still living in slums in developing countries is alarming: an estimated 828 million people live in slums today, compared to 767 million in 2000. Will it ever be possible to control the slums?

These days climate change is a “hot” issue throughout the world. Developed and developing countries are all threatened with changing climates. Some coastal countries like the Maldives would even need to struggle for their existence. It is the only goal which is most debatable and controversial target among all the goals. Should climate change be another target for environment sustainability?

India is a very important stake holder for the absolute success of MDGs. What are the challenges, problems and issues we are facing, which are difficult to handle for the achievements of goal in Indian context.

We have five more years before the target date set by the MDGs, yet some targets still appear impossible to achieve. Should the United Nation take initiatives for new goals and targets? Should we continue to try to achieve the existing Millennium Development Goals or should they be changed to reflect the progress that has been made and the new problems which have emerged? What are some issues you hope to see as goals and targets for next round of MDGs?

All these questions are very much important to put us in a trouble because this time we have a chance to think about it; but our next generation may not be that much fortunate.

Reference- http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals



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One thought on “Environment Sustainability- An Unrealistic Truth

  1. Yogesh,

    I remember this from our Development Dialogue that never happened in the first term.

    Do you really think the goal is unrealistic? The four targets, to me, seem like reasonable targets, but ones which would require coordinated efforts across nations. Perhaps it’s the coordination of efforts that might be unachievable, not the goal itself. Notice, however, that the solution to these two different problems is quite different.

    Posted by Ananda Mahto | February 3, 2011, 11:12 am

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